Mike the Poet calls South LA “the blood and bones” of Los Angeles

Mike the Poet interacting with students after the open mike session| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Mike the Poet interacting with students after the open mic session | Sinduja Rangarajan

Mike Sonksen patted a student’s back, bumped fists with another and hugged a third as he took swift, long strides across the California State University Los Angeles campus on a recent afternoon.

The lanky 40-year-old, popularly known as “Mike the Poet,” had just finished hosting an open mic session that brought together poets, singers and songwriters from across the campus. Sonksen performed during the session, but only briefly. He was focused instead on encouraging the next generation of artists. Beyond crafting poems, Sonksen, who is also a journalist and performer, considers himself a mentor to upcoming poets in the city.

Click play to watch Sonksen discuss his poem “I Am Alive In Los Angeles,” his journey as a poet, his views on performance poetry and his reasons for mentoring the next generation:

Sonksen recalled that as a young writer, he struggled for his voice to be heard. As a 20-year-old, in the 1990s, Sonksen would perform in public libraries, bookstores and even on street corners. He used performance poetry to break into the literary circuit.

Throughout his career, L.A. has always been Sonksen’s inspiration — and South L.A. has been one of the city neighborhoods closest to his heart.

Sonksen with his grandfather| Photo credit: Mike Sonksen

Sonksen with his grandfather| Mike Sonksen

“South L.A. is where the real, normal middle-class people of L.A. live,” he said, adding that “sometimes, it tends to be overlooked.”

For a time, Sonksen taught at the View Park Preparatory High School in the Crenshaw district. There, his students participated in poetry competitions conducted by the city and won many awards.

But Sonksen, a third-generation L.A. native, knew about South L.A. long before working as a teacher. His grandparents studied, lived and spent most of their lives in South L.A., and Sonksen grew up hearing their stories. To Sonksen, South L.A. is “the blood and bones of the city.”

In this neighborhood and others across Los Angeles, Mike the Poet’s literary adventures are sure to keep him living, writing and mentoring for years to come, inspiring a new generation of L.A. poets.

Listen below to  “Watts to Leimert Park,” a poem where Sonksen pays tribute to different artists from South L.A.:

Click play to listen to the full version of Sonksen’s poem, “I Am Alive In Los Angeles:”

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Featured photo credit: Mike Sonksen and his grandfather, courtesy of Sonksen.

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